Golf Handicap Vs. Index What's the Difference

Golf Handicap Vs. Index: What’s the Difference?

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a teeny-tiny šŸ¤ affiliate commission.

As someone who’s just begun to pick interest in golf, you’ll often hear the terms “handicap” and “handicap index.” Many golf followers fall into the trap of using both words interchangeably, but they are technically different, especially when you look at how they are awarded. If you are keen on knowing the difference between the two, here’s an article that explains everything you should know.

So what’s the difference between a golf handicap and index? The main difference between a golf handicap and index is that a handicap index is the official rating of a golfer’s handicap, while a handicap is a generic term used by golfers to refer to their average score in relation to par.

A handicap generally refers to a numerical measure of a golfer’s potential playing ability, based on the number of tees they are able to play from in a given course. On the other hand, a handicap index refers to only the handicaps established through the auspices of the USGA handicap system.

Anyone can claim any handicap. Ask a golfer what their handicap is, and you’ll hear them call numbers like fourteen. This typically means that the golfer’s final score is usually 14 strokes over par. Handicaps are kept by golfers who don’t want to or can’t join a golf club. Unlike most golf slang, these are official golf terms you should know.

Golf Handicap vs. Handicap Index Deep-Dive

golf index vs handicap

To break the difference between a handicap and a handicap index into more details here’s some more explanation:

A handicap is used as a general term to represent a golfer’s average score in relation to par.

A handicap index is a term that’s more specific to an official handicapping system. It refers to how a golfer’s game is rated to a particular system. The most popular handicap index system used in the United States is the USGA Handicap System. The use of the term by the USGA started in the early 1980s when the golf body added slope rating to the equation.

So, when asked about the difference between both terms, you can refer to a handicap index as the official rating of a golfer’s handicap, calculated and kept by the official handicap system of the golfer’s location. However, a handicap is a generic term used by golfers to refer to their average score in relation to par.

It’s important to note that a handicap index doesn’t exactly represent the average score of a golfer (although it is something close).

How Do You Get a Handicap Index?

It’s very easy – join a golf club.

Once a club can meet the USGA’s guidelines for supervising golf activities, can guarantee to maintain the integrity of the USGA Handicap System, and can provide for peer review, it’ll certainly be able to provide a USGA Handicap Index for its members.

Remember that you’ll have to post your scores from at least five 18-hole rounds for your handicap index to be established. However, you don’t have to limit this to the rounds you’re playing with your club. It is allowed for you to post rounds from different courses and times, as long as there’s someone to attest to these scores.

If you are confused about where or how to start, you can become an associate member of the SCGA. Becoming an associate member of the SCGA would automatically place you with a nearby club so you can start to track your new club. It also provides opportunities for you to play in events alongside other club members.

Are All Golf Handicap Indexes Calculated the Same?

The primary basis for calculating a handicap index is your course rating.

The golf course rating is a numerical value used to represent the difficulty level of the course and the set of tees.

The course rating is typically determined by the state or regional golf association. Usually, a team of experts is deployed from these associations to measure the course value and slope ratings. The slope rating is an essential factor in the USGA’s formula for calculating the handicap differential used in the GHIN Handicap Index.

Score differential = (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – Playing conditions adjustment calculations) Ɨ (113 Standard Slope/Slope Ratings of Tees Played)

The above formula works for all handicap services based in the United States.

Why You Should Have a Golf Handicap Index (7 Reasons)

With handicap index becoming more popular in golf, it’s no more strange to see newbies and amateur golfers wondering why they should get a handicap index.

If you are in this category, here are some reasons why you should consider joining a club and getting the right calculation for your handicap index.

1. Allows you to play in a level playing field

As golf enthusiasts, we all have those friends that immersed themselves so much in the game from a very young age. Unsurprisingly, such friends tend to destroy you every single time you attempt to play with them.

Demoralizing, right?

Well, you don’t have to play with them since it means giving away strokes arbitrarily. Having a handicap can help you pick someone on your own handicap, therefore, offering you a level playground to perform at your best and develop accordingly.

2. It allows you to participate in local competitions where handicap index is required

There’ll always be times when your friends or office crew would need an additional member at their local course.

However, most such tournaments would require a local handicap index. You don’t want to turn down the opportunity to have fun with friends or raise work camaraderie because you do not have a golf handicap index.

Get a handicap index today and save yourself from the shame of turning down opportunities to play.

3. It offers you the right pedestal to access your progress and skill level

This is, in fact, one of the most popular reasons why people get a handicap index.

Getting your correct index can help you track your progress since you’ll know whether you are becoming better or worse. You’ll get to answer questions like whether your trend is headed towards a U.S. Open bid or a complete set of clubs tossed in the lake.

4. You can get an accurate reflection of how well you performed vs. the course

A significant feature of the handicap system is its derivation from the USGA course rating. This means that you get to calculate your performance based on the course you’ve played in.

So, if you do not perform well in a tournament, it’s probably because you are playing in an unfavorable course, and the handicap index recognizes this. So the next time you are disappointed about your 94 points from the PGA WEST Stadium Course tips, remember that it’s equivalent to an 82 points score at The Rancho Park GC.

5. Stop Losing Money

We all know how annoying it can be to continue losing money because you are playing with people miles ahead of you in playing ability. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer that knowing your handicap index can help you stop losing all this money.

If you’ve been lighting your money on fire because you are supposedly not getting strokes from your friends (who are clearly better). A handicap index would pitch you with other players at your level so that you can start to earn some loot back.

6. It offers you chances to win prizes in charity tournaments

Charity tournaments are becoming more popular these days.

And we all love to play in charity tournaments since they help great causes, don’t we?

Of course, there are prizes as additional motivation to play in these tournaments, and we all love to win prizes. If you are one of those people that use approximate handicaps, it makes you automatically ineligible.

That would be a good rake, won’t it?

7. You would also understand the scorecard

We all hate the dumb feeling of not knowing our score on the course, right?

Well, a handicap index allows you to learn what the heck those numbers on your scorecard really represent. You’ll typically see ‘handicap’ printed all over your scorecard – it’s time to know.

Conclusion: Golf Index vs. Golf Handicap

That’s it, a detailed look at the difference between handicap and handicap index.

So far, we’ve explained that handicap is a general term that refers to a golfer’s average score in relation to their par. However, it is mostly unofficial and would not be accepted as an official score to get into tournaments.

On the other hand, a handicap index is an official rating of a golfer’s handicap kept and calculated by an official handicap system.

In this article, we’ve also answered some frequently asked questions on both concepts why it’s essential to know your handicap index.